Cravats were developed from Croatian mercenaries honored by Louis XIV in France during the 17th century. It was not until early 19th century that the cravat achieved the height of fashion in France and England.The French called it 'cravate', French for Croat or Croatian. The word "cravat," lost its French final "e" when it crossed to England. Once in England the cravat replaced the neck-high lace collars of Charles I and II. At first it was a straight narrow strip of lace or linen, hanging down from the neck. In the 18th century the jabot took over, the ruffled and embroidered shirt-front billowing up over the opening of the waistcoat almost to conceal the neckcloth, which now buttoned at the back. Then the neckcloth re-established itself over the jabot, covering the shirt-front and evolving into the stock, which grew freer and more voluminous in its proportions as time went on.
An endless variety of cravats appeared, including cravats of tasseled strings, plaid scarves, tufts and bows of ribbon, lace, and embroidered linen all had their staunch adherents. Nearly one hundred different knots were recognised. Collars grew higher at the turn of the 19th century. pointed edges around the chin and cheeks became fashionable. Cravats were wrapped tightly around the neck ending in bows of varying length. Cravats, at this period, were sometimes as much as a foot high, with the points of the collars rising half-way up the face and obliging gentlemen to keep their chins and their heads well up in the air.
It was George "Beau" Brummel who first elevated the cravat into a cult by starching his neckwear, creating novel, intricate knots that might take up to an hour to tie. He was the first to introduce starch into it, insisting that it should be stiffened to the "consistency of fine writing paper". Cravats grew more casual again as the 19th century went on and gradually shrank into smaller bows as the century progressed. Collars became lower, with wide enough gaps between the points to allow the head to move freely enough from side to side.
There were a variety of alternatives to the cravat available to 18th and 19th century men and boys. The most common was the "stock". A cravat was a generally long piece of cloth that would around the neck and tied in front. Stocks were fastened in back by a hook or knot. The stock in front had what to the modern eye looks something like a pre-tied bow tie. Some stocks looked like a wide cravat swathing the neck almost like a poultice. They were not the most comfortable of neckwear. A boy or man wearing one might force the individual to stand or sit upright in a rather stiff positon. The "solitare" appeared in the mid-18th century and was attached in the back to the wig, wrapped around the neck, and brought to a bow in front over a cravat. The "macaronis" appeared in England during the mid-18th century on dandies affecting an Italian-inspired fashion, colouring their cheeks with rouge and wearing diamond-studded pumps, and cravats with huge bows. Those who adopted massive cravats were called the incroyables, meaning the"incredibles". They wore such large cravats that their chins were hidden.
It was the necktie which finally replaced the cravat. It was inexpensive, lasted for ever, and was easy and quick to knot.
To make your own cravat:
- Cut 1.5 yards white linen. Keep the selvage edge smooth.
- Fold in half lengthwise.
- Measure 10 inches on the fold and cut. This will give you an isosceles triangle, 55" x 10". Some prefer not to use a triangle and retain the full rectangular shape.
- Hand sew a narrow hem on the slanted edges - the selvage edge is already finished.
- Spray starch and iron.